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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Myanmar cyclone death toll soars past 22,000; oil hits record above $121; ex-congressional candidate convicted for fake disappearance arrested

The cyclone death toll soared above 22,000 today and more than 41,000 others were missing as foreign countries mobilized to rush in aid after the country’s deadliest storm on record, state radio reported.

Up to 1 million people may be homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, early Saturday. Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out, the World Food Program said.

Images from state television showed large trees and electricity poles sprawled across roads and roofless houses ringed by large sheets of water in the Irrawaddy River delta region, which is regarded as Myanmar’s rice bowl.

‘‘From the reports we are getting, entire villages have been flattened and the final death toll may be huge,’’ Mac Pieczowski, who heads the International Organization for Migration office in Yangon, said in a statement.

President Bush called on Myanmar’s military junta to allow the United States to help with disaster assistance, saying the U.S. already has provided some assistance but wants to do more.

‘‘We’re prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who have lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation. But in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country,’’ he said.

Myanmar’s military regime has signaled it will welcome aid supplies for victims of a devastating cyclone, the U.N. said today, clearing the way for a major relief operation from international organizations.

The appeal for outside assistance was unusual for Myanmar’s ruling generals, who have long been suspicious of international organizations and closely controlled their activities. Several agencies, including the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, have limited their presence as a consequence.

Associated Press

Oil hits record above $121 on supply woes

Oil futures surpassed $121 a barrel for the first time today, the spike fueled by worries about threats to supply and a weakening of the U.S. dollar.

The surge in oil prices was also fueled by hopes that the U.S. economy will be spared a sharp downturn after the release of data Monday showing an unexpected expansion in the U.S. service sector in April, analysts said.

Light, sweet crude for June delivery rose to a record $121.49 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange today. The contract later retreated to $121.30 a barrel, up $1.33 from Monday’s close.

Crude futures settled on Monday at $119.97 a barrel, up $3.65 from Friday’s close.

‘‘The bulls are in control of the market,’’ said Victor Shum, an energy analyst with Purvin & Gertz in Singapore. ‘‘The economic report out of the U.S. yesterday on the service sector seems to suggest the economic slowdown may not be as deep as initially thought.’’

‘‘The sentiment is that the oil pricing is likely going to stay quite strong, with a lot of volatility,’’ Shum said.

Meanwhile, a Goldman Sachs analyst today predicted that oil prices could reach $150 to $200 a barrel over the next six months to two years, but said that how far prices could climb still ‘‘remains a major uncertainty.’’Ð Associated Press

Ex-congressional candidate convicted for fake disappearance arrested

Ex-congressional candidate convicted for fake disappearance arrestedA former congressional candidate convicted of faking his disappearance after a car crash two years ago was arrested this mornong for allegedly violating his bail conditions.

Earlier today, Assistant Strafford County Attorney Thomas Velardi said Gary Dodds was considered a fugitive when police were unable to locate him after a judge revoked his bail and an arrest warrant was issued.

Dodds was arrested near an apartment building he owns in Portsmouth, Velardi said. A message seeking comment was left with his attorney.

Dodds, 43, was convicted in February of falsifying evidence, causing a false public alarm and leaving the scene of the April 2006 crash, which prosecutors said he staged to boost his faltering campaign for the 1st Congressional District nomination. Dodds was sentenced in March to 20 days in jail and a year of home confinement. He was free pending a ruling on his appeal.

Velardi said he asked that bail be revoked after Dodds’ wife reported to police that the two had been in a physical fight in Florida.

He also said Dodds had not been living consistently at the address he reported as his residence, and that he had been in Florida recently when he told the court he would be in New Orleans. Velardi said Dodds’ wife also reported he had been acting irrationally.

- Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

— Both the Macon City Council and the Jones County Commission meet tonight. We'll let you know what happens at each of the meetings.

— Columnist Ed Grisamore will tell you about Paul Johnson, a 27-year-old Macon man who is one of four local birdwatching enthusiasts in pursuit of the ivory-billed woodpecker.or the latest information on qualifying in Middle Georgia and beyond.

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